NIAID-RML via AP

4 cases of Brazilian variant in Belgium

The first four cases of the Brazilian variant of coronavirus P.1 have been diagnosed in Belgium.  Experts are worried about this variant because it is able to trounce existing immunity.  People with coronavirus antibodies can still come down with the disease for a second time. Moreover, there is speculation that existing vaccines will be less effective against this variant.

Inge Neven of the Brussels health inspection has confirmed the cases: two in Brussels, one in Liège and a fourth case in the Vlaamse Rand, the Flemish border area around Brussels.  A third possible case in Brussels is being investigated.

The cases were diagnosed in different labs where each day a number of coronavirus samples are more thoroughly scrutinised than others. The tests allow scientists to gain greater insight into the presence of variants.

Piet Maes of the Rega Institute in Leuven says that more research is needed to discover whether the     Brazilian variant is circulating widely in the community.

“You don’t expect to pick up a variant that is not present in the community in large numbers.  Maybe these are people who have been in contact with people who have travelled abroad. The fact that three institutes have now encountered the variant could suggest it is more widely present than we anticipated. Coming days should provide greater clarity.”

Piet Maes says the effectiveness of existing vaccines against this variant hasn’t yet been proved.

“This Brazilian variant displays mutations identical to those of the South African variant.  It’s already been shown vaccines are less effective against the South African variant. We can expect that they will be less effective against this variant too.”

The news of the presence of the Brazilian variant in Belgium doesn’t mean a change in our vaccination strategy.

“We have discovered four cases.  That’s a low number.  Fortunately vaccines work against the many other variants that are present” says Piet Maes.

Contact tracers are now examining who has been in contact with the confirmed cases.  One of the confirmed cases was in contact with a relative, who returned from Brazil in December.

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